The last clear chance doctrine is an aspect of personal injury law that Missouri used to have, before it moved from contributory negligence to comparative negligence rules. While Missouri no longer uses the last clear chance doctrine, it is still a great way to see how the law changes to make things fairer.
Shared Fault Rules: Contributory and Comparative Negligence
In many situations where someone gets hurt in an accident, the victim was partially to blame for their injuries. This is especially true in car accident cases. Think, for example, of a driver going 70 miles per hour in a 55 mile per hour zone and getting hit and hurt by someone else. That excessive speed likely made the victim’s injuries worse.
States have solved these shared fault situations in two ways:
- Contributory negligence
- Comparative negligence
Under contributory negligence, victims cannot recover any compensation if they were at-fault in any way. Under comparative negligence, victims see their compensation reduced by their percentage of fault. Some states have further modified comparative negligence, barring recovery for victims who were more than 50 percent at fault.
Missouri’s Shared Fault Rules
Missouri is a pure comparative negligence state: Victims see their compensation reduced by their percentage of fault, no matter how high.
However, Missouri was not always this way.
Like nearly everywhere in the U.S., Missouri used contributory negligence rules well into the 1900s. However, also like nearly all other states, the unfairness of leaving victims uncompensated for minor mistakes on their part was becoming apparent.
The Last Clear Chance Rule Aimed to Soften Contributory Negligence
One of the ways that courts handling personal injury claims tried to make contributory negligence more humane was through the last clear chance rule. Under this rule, victims who were partially to blame can still recover compensation if the defendant should have known of the danger they were putting the victim in, and could have avoiding hurting the victim without injuring someone else.
The case Banks v. Morris Company was an early application of the last clear chance rule in Missouri, though the court called it the “humanitarian submission” rule.
In Banks, a pedestrian wanted to cross the street. She looked both ways to find vehicles on both sides, but she thought that they were far enough away so she started to cross. When it became clear that she had misjudged the speed of one of the approaching vehicles, she tried to get back but got hit.
The pedestrian contributed to the accident by crossing the street at the wrong time. But letting drivers shrug and hold the wheel steady seemed both unfair and extremely disturbing. So courts fashioned the last clear chance to let victims in similar predicaments recover the compensation they needed and deserved.
Personal Injury Lawyers at the Smith Law Office Serve Victims in St. Joseph
If you or a loved one has been hurt in a car accident, the personal injury lawyers at the Smith Law Office can help. Contact them online or call their law office at (816) 875-9373 for effective legal representation in St. Joseph, Springfield, Kansas City, or the rest of western Missouri.